Cooking Demo’s 101: Enjoy the Moment

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Desmond J. Keefe, Chef

Whether you are a chef, a home cook or maybe even a Food Channel junkie, chances are you have been asked to give a cooking demonstration. Your first reaction might be one of flattery, “Wow, they want to see me cook,” followed quickly with an overwhelming fear, “Oh, my gosh, they want to see me cook!”

Now that you have said yes, I am here to save you some sleepless nights.

Mise en Place

All chefs know this phrase means, “a place for everything,” more literally translated as “let’s get organized.”

  • Start with the menu, and gear it towards your audience.

I have done cooking demonstrations for professional chefs, culinary students, health clubs, resort hotels, church groups, adult education classes, television spots and obese children with their parents. Each of these groups is obviously very different and therefore requires a specific menu.

For example, when presenting a meal to a group of professional chefs, I would want to prepare an item that they would be interested in adopting into their operation; a unique sauce, an underutilized species or perhaps a technique that requires skill and practice to master. This is very different from the health club, where they tend to be looking more for low-fat items that taste good and are quick and easy to prepare such as pork medallions with a fall fruit sauce, or a seafood stew with garlic toast.

When preparing the menu, bare in mind not only how to appeal to the needs and interests of your audience, but also your time constraints and what cooking equipment is available.  Also, make a point of using a variety of products and cooking techniques to inform and educate your audience.

  • Preparation – Practice, Practice, Practice

Now that your menu is set, put together a requisition or shopping list. Also, a typed-out menu or requisition is easy to modify.

Practice on preparing your dishes; you should be able to cook them without checking the recipes. Remember; your audience not only wants to see the expert, but they also want to hear him/her. You should be so comfortable with the preparations that you can tell stories or explain a technique in mid-tourne. Most of the chefs I know do not have any trouble with talking while preparing a dish.

The key is to talk about things your audience is interested in. They came to your demo because of the subject you are covering, so be sure to stay on topic. Notes are good, but a PowerPoint presentation is better. Do some research on your dish and ingredients; I learn more interesting facts when I’m looking for something to say in a demo than any other time!  I always want to have a gem of knowledge to share that will give the group an ah-ha, and my sense of urgency is key in leading me to it.

  • Have ingredients ready to cook and sometimes even precooked.

You are presenting this meal live, and once you begin there is no way to say “cut!” in the middle and start over. The ingredients for each recipe should be stored on their own trays; hotel pans work great because the tall sides keep your food from sliding around too much. Stainless steel or glass ramekins are the best containers as they exude professionalism.

  • Go time!

OK, you’ve practiced your dishes, you’ve brought all of your mise-en-place, and you’ve got your spiel, now it’s go time! It is nice if you can have someone introduce you, because it sets the tone and lets people know that you are starting. If you are introducing yourself, just look up from your prep put on your best smile and say hello. Thank the group for joining you, thank the organization that has invited you, and thank your assistant(s) if there are any.

Start off with some humor but be careful not to offend anyone; if your attempt at humor is going to be at anyone’s expense it should always be your own. People love it when you tell on your self, “I’m such a control freak I have date dots on the containers in my home refrigerator.” They also love to hear about your enthusiasm; if you are passionate about what you are doing they will be too.

Enjoy your moment, and do what you love. For more guidance on your cooking presentation check back for my next installment; “You Can Feed Their Minds but Don’t Forget the Rest.”

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